Before 2011, few people in the fashion industry had ever heard the term “big data.” Take a moment to look at this Google Trends chart that tracks interest in “big data” over time—you’ll see a remarkable explosion of interest in the topic over the past few years.
What is big data and how can it benefit your fashion company? I think this definition of big data by Lisa Arthur, published in Forbes in August 2013, does an excellent job of defining the term and placing it in context:
“Big data is a collection of data from traditional and digital sources inside and outside your company that represents a source for ongoing discovery and analysis.”
In other words, big data is the sort of thing that smart companies have been using for decades to increase profits and gain advantages over their competitors—and whether you’ve thought about it or not, you’re already part of the big data information pool.
Whenever you use your grocery store, restaurant or retail loyalty card, for example, the company that issued you the card is adding information about your purchase to its vast pool of data. Using big data analytics, they can flag you as not just a customer, but as a member of a certain type of customer segment—and follow up with coupons and direct mail offers designed to appeal specifically to that segment. What’s new about all this in the past few years—what has transformed data into big data—is the way that digital communications tools and platforms have increased the volume of data available to any company. Plus, the ability of any company to mine nuggets of actionable business intelligence from that mountain of information has also increased. Here are three components of big data your fashion company needs to be thinking about right now:
#1 Embrace Big Data for Fashion Sample Management
How to get it: Fashion trends in general—and your brand and products in particular—are being talked about in social media every day. From Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and YouTube and beyond, your customers (and potential customers) are sharing fashion news, photos and recommendations.
Your company should be using tools to monitor online news, blogs, forums and social networks. There are literally hundreds of tools to choose from, but some of the best I’ve seen include Talkwalker, Brandwatch, Engagor, Heartbeat and Attensity Analyze. As with all such tools, however, give them a test drive before you go all-in: You want to be absolutely sure you’re getting the kind of information flow that’s going to be meaningful to your business.
So that’s one side of the social media big data coin: monitoring the conversations that are already happening. But what about facilitating those conversations?
Taking the initiative and facilitating (and monitoring) conversations is a powerful opportunity for your fashion company to leverage social media to gain a unique understanding of your audience. For example, imagine the insights obtained by Oscar de la Renta when they revealed a line exclusively on Instagram. Or consider what designers, brands and style experts learned when they worked with Pinterest to create a Fashion Week hub.
Big data, big benefit: Which path would you prefer traveling: guessing what your customers might want or knowing what your customers want, like and dislike? Knowledge is power, and the more you have an understanding of who your customers are and what they want and need, the better you’ll be able to serve those wants and needs.
#2 Big website data for your fashion brand
How to get it: The good news is you already have it. You have a website hosted on a server that maintains a log of all your website activity. The big question is this: Do you have log analysis tools in place that can properly analyze the activity of your site visitors?
Now, if that sounds a bit techy to you, here’s an example I think will help: Let’s say you’ve utilized the services of Launchmetrics to create a virtual showroom using GPS Styles. Your showroom is a robust representation of all your digital assets and is made available to a community of 15,000 fashion influencers around the world. Better yet, you’ve incorporated GPS Radar to make your materials available to editors, buyers, bloggers, celebrities, influencers, journalists, media and more.
With proper analysis tools in place, you’ll know which of your designs is capturing the imagination of thousands of the most influential editors, buyers and bloggers on the planet and which ones are being virtually ignored.
Big data, big benefit: Might your marketing strategies change if you were able to identify the top few products getting the most attention? You bet they would—and that’s a vivid example of the kind of simple and actionable insight that was unimaginable to fashion companies just a few years ago.
#3 Big trend data
How to get it: Social media data and website data are about understanding how customers and potential customers are talking about and perceiving your company and your products. Trend data is about the context within which your company operates.
What is trend data? The simplest example is the trending list found on Twitter: You can easily see the main topics that the universe of Twitter users is discussing at any one time.
What tools can you use? Many of the social media monitoring tools mentioned earlier in this article can be applied to monitoring general trends as opposed to specific brands, companies and products. In addition, Recorded Future and Crystalloids are interesting places to explore the growing field of predictive analytics, and you can expect many more tools to be made available in the next few years as companies begin to understand and embrace trend analysis.
For a simple illustration of how big trend data can be useful, let’s return to Google Trends. Take a look, for example, at the chart for expensive handbags. You can see that from 2007 till 2009, the trendline is headed down; not surprising, given the dip the economy took around that time. But look at how the trendline has gradually increased from 2009 through 2014—and the forecast is for continued increasing. Does this translate into a greater demand for expensive handbags? Not necessarily, but here’s the point: Layered over other information (company sales of handbags, for example), this trendline might help reveal company-specific insights that could affect handbag marketing strategies for the coming year.
Big data, big benefit: Is your company making a leap of faith into the future without any idea of what that future might hold? What if you could take that leap strategically—with quantifiable information that predicts what the business landscape will look like tomorrow? Imagine when predictive analytics becomes able to deliver insights like the colors that will be popular next year.
Two more things you need to think about when considering a big data strategy for your fashion company:
Don’t be a hoarder: You need to have a strategy not just for collecting data, but for identifying useful business intelligence that can help inform critical decisions at every level of your business. Gathering information is just the first step; make sure everyone in your company is aware of the power of big data and be prepared to make the full journey.
Don’t be a slave: Professional intuition still matters. Yes, you want to gather as many insights from your audience as possible, but you don’t want to turn your company’s decision-making process over to the crowd. Give them what they want—but don’t stop working to delight and surprise them with what they never knew they wanted.
Bottom line: Big data is a big buzzword in fashion right now. Don’t be fooled into believing it’s a magic bullet for success. It’s not. It is, however, a powerful tool that can help provide your company with a competitive edge when it’s utilized correctly. Add big data to your strategic mix — you’ll have a significant advantage over fashion companies that don’t.